Attack costs LA police $24m

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A pounds 14M SETTLEMENT has been paid out by the Los Angeles County Police for an incident in 1989 in which dozens of officers in riot gear burst into a wedding party and injured 36 guests, many Samoan Americans.

After nine years of legal wrangling, a guest who suffered broken bones and brain damage as a result of beating was given $5.8m, the largest individual pay-out. The total settlement, the biggest in Californian history, comes to nearly $24m.

Although the LA county sheriff's department has not been dogged by the repeated accusations of racism and excessive force as the Los Angeles city police force, the wedding incident painted a very similar picture of impetuous policing and rank prejudice.

Across the US, police forces have been compelled to take action to stamp out racism, most notably in New York, where racial tensions often threaten to boil over into rioting. Special procedures have been introduced to ensure that when there are signs that a crime may have been racially motivated, a flying squad "anti-bias unit" is sent in to investigate and handle the prosecution.

Despite such procedures there are frequent accusations of police involvement in racist incidents. As in the notorious beating of Rodney King, the incident that sparked off the 1992 Los Angeles riots, the police's heavy- handed tactics in the latest case were filmed by a neighbour with a video camera. The tape, seen repeatedly on local television, showed dozens of officers wielding batons and lashing out with arms and legs while the guests put up little if any resistance.

Victims said the police had referred to them contemptuously as "coconut head" and "pineapple head". According to the police, the officers were sent to respond to a complaint about a street fight in Cerritos, south of Los Angeles, and pounced after guests threw rocks and bottles. Several officers were injured, the department said, and arrest warrants were issued for rioting and assault with a deadly weapon.

As the case became public, however, all charges were dropped and a jury in a civil suit found in favour of the guests, many of them from two local Samoan-American families, in 1995.